Kathleen Parker follows up; this time she doesn’t see race

Man oh man. I appreciate all your insightful comments on my post about Kathleen Parker last Friday afternoon. There was a lot of blogosphere anger directed at Parker from many different blogs and media outlets, so one would think maybe she’d get it by then. And write a follow-up apologizing.

I guess that was too optimistic of me to assume.

On Sunday, Parker wrote a follow up column in the Post and tried to sort-of-but-not-really apologize, or more like explain where she was coming from while still standing by her previous statements. She brushed off most criticisms of her column, saying that people are “too sensitive.” But then she got to the part about how she did not understand that if Obama showed more rage at BP, he would be perceived as an angry black man. And why didn’t she see this coming? Parker explains:

But I also recognize that my life experience is different from that of most African Americans. And that experience allows me both the luxury of seeing people without the lens of race, but also (sometimes) to fail to imagine how people of other backgrounds might interpret my words.

As my Post colleague Jonathan Capehart wrote on the PostPartisan blog — and explained to me in a telephone conversation — black men are held to a different standard than whites. They are practiced in keeping their emotions under wraps. They can’t “go off,” as some have urged Obama to do in response to the gulf oil spill.

I hadn’t thought of it this way, but I take Jonathan and others at their word that it’s a fact of life for African American men.

You’ll have to take me at my word when I say that I don’t view Obama exclusively as a black man — no matter what he said on his census form. Not only is he half-white, but also he has managed to transcend skin color, at least from where I sit.

To which I have to say, I honestly thought I couldn’t be more annoyed than I was after her first column dropped last week. But now I am even angrier, if that’s possible. I’m struggling to even find adjectives to convey this right now.

In her follow up, Parker displays all the classic symptoms of total obliviousness to white privilege. She talks about how because she is white, which she views as the normative, default race, she does not see race in the world! Only people of color see race, because they have to! She is fortunate enough to never have to think of race!

Then she goes on to say that in her mind, she doesn’t even think of Obama as a black man because a) technically he’s still only half and b) he transcends skin color!

Is anyone else reminded of Chris Matthews famously saying for a moment, he forgot Obama was black?

Or during the Sotomayor confirmation hearings last summer, when Senator Inhofe said he was concerned that Sotomayor, a woman of color, might let her “personal gender and race” affect her rulings on the bench?

My biggest question is: why do people like Parker (and Matthews and Inhofe) always place the burden on people of color to “transcend skin color” and prove that they can be “colorless”? Why do white people get to claim that they are “colorblind” (a term whose definition is dubious to begin with) but people of color have to make extra effort to make society “forget” their race or to “transcend” their race?

All this does is continue to reinforce the idea that white is the default, and that those who are not white have to prove whether they can get past their skin color and be “mainstream.” The burden is on us, folks, to prove that we can make people forget our skin color.

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12 Responses to Kathleen Parker follows up; this time she doesn’t see race

  1. Niki says:

    “I’m white. That isn’t a race. It’s a blank slate that gives me objectivity. Unlike all you race-y, coloured people that have race because you’re not white. That means you don’t have objectivity.”

    I almost love it when people say this stuff. Nothing else could so perfectly highlight the public ignorance to the default white gaze in media.

  2. People tell her she’s white; She takes their word for it!

  3. Bitter Scribe says:

    So Kathleen Parker doesn’t “see race.” That puts her in some pretty exalted company: Stephen Colbert.

    Of course, the difference between them is that Colbert is pretending to be a self-assured fool.

  4. Jadey says:

    Wow. The “luxury of seeing people without the lens of race” = the privilege of pretending that race doesn’t matter.

    I mean, she fully acknowledges and supports the viewpoint of her colleague who tried to school her, but then transitions almost immediately into the incoherent defense of “This does not apply here because I have decided that Obama transcends blackness because we are DISTANTLY RELATED”. WTH.

    A quick google reveals that apparently she’s not Obama’s only ridiculously irrelevant relation.

    Genetics =/= familial bond.

  5. Anisa says:

    Ok, another thing that bugs me about Parker is that SHE just gets to decide Obama’s race, that she doesn’t see him “exclusively as a black man.” Um, not really for her to decide. I’m mixed race and I don’t appreciate when people decide for ME what race I am.

  6. Ostien says:

    “As a sidebar, there’s another reason I don’t see him as only black. He is my cousin.”

    Well of COURSE he can’t be black because that would mean she is related to a black person, and would have to think about race *gasp!* No matter how Obama identifies. I mean pfft who cares about that? /sarcasm

    I didn’t think it could get worse after that gender normative drivel in her last column. She continues to focus on how “feminine” Obama is, boiling down styles of rhetoric to archetypes of man and woman (while at the same time repeating that we are past all of that sticky gender stuff, she is only speaking of the past). She tries to place herself in the same position with regard to race. She denies seeing race just like she denies her own discussion steeped in and perpetuating normative gender stereotypes. She claims to be blind to both, or better yet claims to be above them both (it’s others who still sees those things not me!) , rather then recognizing any sort of continuing and complex social transfer of these norms.

  7. I think what Parker said regarding race was well-meaning at its core, but a product of ignorance more than anything else. Offensive? Certainly, but since when did you see the phrase “white privilege” or any discussion of it in the mainstream media? WE have these conversations frequently, but they somehow fail to trickle out beyond our spaces.

    Still, the tone of the whole article throughout is not exactly a mea culpa.

  8. Pingback: Colorblind is not enough « debgpi

  9. evil_fizz says:

    I think what Parker said regarding race was well-meaning at its core, but a product of ignorance more than anything else. Offensive? Certainly, but since when did you see the phrase “white privilege” or any discussion of it in the mainstream media?

    I don’t think you need the phrase “white privilege” to identify the breathtaking racism which underscores a lot of her ideas. She’s premising the superiority of her own perceptions on the fact that she’s white. Professing colorblindness is one of the most invidious forms of racism because it allows the speaker to erase endemic and institutional racism. Which is to say nothing of the fact that “I can see things without the lens of race” seems to be a proxy for “People of color get so worked up about some things.”

    Also, it’s high time to give up on the “premised on ignorance, not malice” lines of argument. You don’t have to intend malice to cause harm. (Even if the most inconsequential of those harms is me stabbing myself in the eye with a fork to avoid future Kathleen Parker columns.)

  10. smmo says:

    Also, it’s high time to give up on the “premised on ignorance, not malice” lines of argument. You don’t have to intend malice to cause harm.

    This is so well stated.

    Do I detect a whiff of evolutionary psychology in Parker’s half-boiled drivel?

    The cousin thing is so trivial. Shut up Kathleen Parker.

  11. Grayce says:

    Just one thing–when someone ignores race, and comments about a person’s actions, is that better or worse than stereotyping by race? Is it the negative space around the topic so that it still has a shape? What, actually, is the desired state here? Can a commentator comment about a president?

  12. mizztcasa says:

    Additionally, researchers also offer alternatives to the colorblindness discourse. Reason and Evans call for the white people to become “racially cognizant”, that is they need to acknowledge the role that race plays in their everyday lives. Being racially cognizant also demands a continuous examination and reinterpretation of race and how it affects our lives. It is also important to balance looking at a person as an individual and acknowledging the role their membership to a social group plays in their daily lives. [17]


    When someone uses phrases such as “I’m color-blind” or “I don’t see race, I have to work hard to keep cool…and not huff and puff. I personally want to be seen and those phrases makes me feel ‘not seen’ and even more invisible. I know that person no matter ‘how down’ they are with different people of different backgrounds don’t truly know about the daily experiences of minorities….the lack of representation in all forms of media (really try to look up pictures of black girls and boys doing different everyday activities on google), the beauty standards we have to conform to, education ‘streamlining’, neighborhood segregation , etc…

    Laissez-Faire Racism |wiki | http://bit.ly/9vhI5U

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